This 1972 documentary captures Pink Floyd right on the brink of its most successful period and acts as an arty, unique time capsule from this period. The heart of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii is stunning live footage shot in a crumbling arena, along with a few bits done in a French studio. Director Adrian Maben does a solid job capturing the music's ever-shifting moods and experimental edge via a combination of sleek, mobile camerawork and precise editing. His insert footage -- bubbling mud baths, blue-screen footage imposing the band over the ruins -- is often self-consciously arty, but this approach actually works as a nice compliment to the ambitious soundscapes. Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii is available in two versions: The original theatrical version focuses strictly on the music and delivers an hour's worth of concert material, while the director's cut adds some visual effects to the beginning and end. Most of this stuff has a negligible impact on the finished product, but functions as decent eye candy to further enhance the music. The real appeal of the director's cut lies in its other major addition: extensive footage of the band shot by Maben while they were recording Dark Side of the Moon. This footage, a combination of interviews and fly-on-the-wall observational material, is always amusing and sometimes quite revealing about the band's relationships and individual personalities. In the end, the appeal of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii will depend on the viewer's interest in the group (and their tolerance for '70s-style artiness), but either version of the film is a must for anyone with a serious interest in Pink Floyd.
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Pink Floyd fared better than many other rock ensembles at having themselves translated to the big screen. Their atmospheric, unconventional music certainly helped; but importantly, they chose talented, established filmmakers to helm these projects, such as Alan Parker for their rock opera Pink Floyd - The Wall and here Adrian Maben, a French documentarian with a keen eye, whose elliptical style and sense of control elevates the film above the many glorified home movies produced by Pink Floyd's contemporaries. Essentially a Pink Floyd concert without an audience, the bulk of the film shows Pink Floyd (surrounded by an unabashedly displayed crew of shirtless cameramen and roadies) playing music at the center of the crumbling Pompeii amphitheater from mid-day until late into the night. Throught the film Maben intercuts or superimposes images of the Pompeii ruins, the surrounding countryside, eroded mosaics and sculptures, and of course the members of Pink Floyd -- indistinguishable from the disheveled technicians around them -- as they perform songs and instrumental pieces from Meddle and their improvisational double-album Ummagumma. Highlights include a re-working of "One of These Days," focused exclusively on drummer Nick Mason (a session from which no other footage was extant), as the other members of the band play in a starfield of studio lights; and the eastern-tinged "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," from Capitol's 1968 Saucerful of Secrets album. Brief, revealing interviews with the band, in England during the recording of their forthcoming album Dark Side of the Moon, were included by Maben as an afterthought, as were a few informal sequences of the band eating breakfast in the studio cafeteria.